In tough times, resist the temptation to target bogeymen

Hatred and prejudice of the ‘other’ often find fertile ground during times of national hardship and economic difficulty.

Jun 12, 2021

Anil Netto
With each wave of the pandemic,  it seems some segments of humanity are succumbing to baser instincts.

Hatred and prejudice of the ‘other’ often  find fertile ground during times of national  hardship and economic difficulty.

This sounds familiar, if we look back in  history, especially to the early 20th century. The humiliating conditions imposed on  Germany after its defeat in World War One  and the economic crisis in 1929 propelled  the Nazis to power and along with them, a  wave of antisemitism.

The Nazis were virulently antisemitic,  scapegoating not only the Jews but other  bogeymen as well, such as communists and  socialists.

Similarly, today, as economic conditions  worsen with the pandemic, we see more  hate speech and hate crimes popping up  around the world. The target groups vary  but the prejudice that fuels such hatred is  unmistakable. Those on the receiving end  are invariably racial and religious minorities, foreigners or migrants.

As economic conditions worsen and unemployment rises, such simmering bigotry,  previously hidden or submerged, rises to  the surface, like boiling water bubbling to  the top. Racial discrimination and xenophobia rear their ugly heads.

Politicians and top officials skilfully use  such base sentiments to divert public attention from their own shortcomings and  abuse of power, or manipulate such sentiments to climb the political ladder.

And so, imaginary bogeymen are raised  for the public to vent their frustration on  and divert anger against leaders. The plunderers and power-hungry get a free ride.  The first step in this kind of targeting is  to dehumanise the ‘other’, the minorities  or migrants or any other target, as dirty  vermin or pests who will overwhelm us –  which is why it is claimed that they have  to be cleansed from society or eliminated.

This is why we must go back again and  again to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It is the longest dialogue that Jesus holds with anyone.

The woman was the unlikeliest candidate  for Jesus or any other Jew to hold such a  deep discussion with.

She was a Samaritan – a member of a  ‘foreign’ group that was despised by those  in Judea and Galilee. The feeling was mutual, due to a long history of social and religious antagonism going back half a millennium. They worshipped in different ways  and even had different holy sites – the Temple in Jerusalem for the Jews and Mount  Gerizim for the Samaritans.

She was a woman – low in the patriarchal system of the time.

She was a social outcast – she had been  married five times, and her present partner  was not her husband. That explains why  she was drawing water alone, at mid-day,  and not with the other women in the morning.

She was probably not used to talking  to strangers, let alone a religious teacher. Yet, Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah to her, raising her stature – as well as  that of the Samaritans – in the eyes of his  followers. The woman was so overjoyed at  this revelation that she rushed to tell everyone who would listen about this man who  knew everything about her.

All this was happening against a backdrop of tough economic times, heavy taxes  and oppressive Roman military occupation.

Now contrast that with the reception Jesus got in the synagogue in Nazareth when  he related how God had found favour with  a couple of foreigners – the widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon and Naaman  the Syrian. The residents of his hometown  literally chased him out of town.

Elsewhere, even Nicodemus, who should  have known better, could not fully grasp  what Jesus was saying. He was everything  the Samaritan woman was not. Far from  being a social outcast, he was a teacher of  Israel. He was a male elder, thus high up  the patriarchal hierarchy. Like Jesus, he  was a Jew. As a member of the Jewish ruling council, he also had considerable influence.

And yet, something was holding Nicodemus back. He could not see Jesus the  way the woman from Samaria – the woman from that despised region whose people  were shunned - so exuberantly did.

Jesus came to draw all of humanity to the  Father so that we can worship in Spirit and  in truth. In the Father’s eyes, there are no  distinctions between ‘chosen ones’ and foreigners, between genders, between people  from different rungs of the social ladder,  between locals and foreigners.

And so, we, too, must look at how we  treat the stranger, the scapegoat and the  targeted in our midst, for they are just as  beloved by God, who has no favourites. We  need to resist the temptation to create imaginary bogeymen and fuel the fires of hatred.

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